Weekender

Deadheads to jam together at The Grateful Ball

The Travelin’ McCourys will perform a solo set at The State Theatre and then return later in the show to perform Grateful Dead classics.
The Travelin’ McCourys will perform a solo set at The State Theatre and then return later in the show to perform Grateful Dead classics. Photo provided

The Travelin’ McCourys and Jeff Austin Band will bring The Grateful Ball to The State Theatre on Oct. 20.

Each band will play its own set then join together at the end of the night to play music popularized by the Grateful Dead.

“It’s a co-headline with Jeff Austin band, so each band will do a set of what you’d normally see them do first,” said Travelin’ McCourys bassist Alan Bartram, who also plays bass for the Grammy Award-winning Del McCoury Band. “As the Travelin’ McCourys we do a lot of different stuff. When we play with Del, we scratch a more traditional itch. So, these shows may lean a little more contemporary or jam oriented if you want to call it that.”

The Grateful Dead tribute set will include well-known songs.

“It’s not necessarily ones that (the Grateful Dead) wrote, but ones they were known for playing,” Bartram said. “So some of them will be covers of Dead covers. Jeff has a big catalog of Dead tunes that he’s known for doing. Ronnie (McCoury) is kind of our resident deadhead in the band. He’s been the one who’s opened our eyes and ears to that catalog. It’s great. It’s so fun for both bands to get together at the same time and each find their own individual things to play in the songs. The fans seem to really dig it, so we’re going to do a bunch more.”

The Pennsylvania-raised Bartram didn’t discover the Dead until later in life.

“They really weren’t on my radar except that as a kid I had this misconception that the Grateful Dead were this heavy metal band,” he said. “So, as an adult, getting introduced to some of the Dead tunes, it’s crazy. So, looking from the outside in, why I think the Dead tunes are so popular is basically the culture that surrounded the music. It’s great music, great songs; really interesting and unique delivery of the songs through that one-of-a-kind band.”

The Travelin’ McCourys release new music every month.

“We’re working on a singles model right now, so we’re going to try to release one new song every month for a year,” Bartram said. “We’ve got several in the can already that we recorded. The next one should be coming out this month. We’re trying to stay pretty busy, getting in the studio every few weeks or so to record new material.”

Bartram said he loved music from an early age — attending a bluegrass festival as a teenager had a lasting effect on the young bassist.

“(My uncle) took me to my first bluegrass festival when I was about 16, and I was hooked immediately,” he said. “I had been playing guitar already, but when I got into bluegrass there’s a big culture of jamming with other pickers. So, I immediately got into that. I found some other guys, close to my own age, and we got together and formed a band pretty soon thereafter. What started as a hobby gradually, over several years, turned into more of a professional thing.”

Bartram’s big break came in the form of a trial by fire audition with Del McCoury.

“When I finished college, I moved to Nashville. I joined Del in 2005,” Bartram said. “When a job came open with Del, I tried out, which was basically just going on the road and playing gigs with him. It wasn’t some official thing in a hall or anything. It was getting on a bus or getting on a plane and going and playing a gig. That’s the short version.”

McCoury’s invite to join his band proved more beneficial to Bartram than he could have imagined.

“I feel really blessed,” Bartram said. “I can’t state how important it is: what a life changer for me that Del McCoury hired me as his bass player. It literally changed my life. It opened up so many doors and so many opportunities.”

The Grateful Ball promises to satisfy fans of not only the Grateful Dead, but also fans of skilled Americana musicians doing what they do best.

“You’ve got two great bands — some of the best instrumentalists in bluegrass or jamgrass. ... Great pickers, awesome songs, both bands are firing on all cylinders right now. And then, for our bands to come together and cover these Grateful Dead tunes, it’s fairly unique. It’s such a fun time.”

IF YOU GO

  • What: The Grateful Ball with The Travelin’ McCourys & Jeff Austin Band
  • When: 8 p.m. Oct. 20
  • Where: The State Theatre, 130 W. College Ave., State College
  • Info: www.thestatetheatre.org
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